In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, an appointed senator tries to save the public from a corrupt public works bill with an epic filibuster on the Senate floor.
Seventy years later, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand–who finally shed her appointed tag this week when she was sworn-in for a two-year term–is trying to save the public from the filibuster.
On a conference call this morning, Gillibrand announced her plans for filibuster reform, in the hopes of returning to the Mr. Smith days, when obstructionist senators had to hold their bladders and argue interminably on the Senate floor.
“New Yorkers rightly ask: ‘Why don’t we force senators to speak on the floor in order to filibuster, just like we saw in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?’” she said this morning. “We just can’t afford the abuse of the filibuster that’s halted the legislative process for the last two years.”
According to Gillibrand, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to file for cloture 84 times in 2009–which would be 83 more than Lyndon Johnson did, in his six years as master of the Senate.
The proposed filibuster reform is part of a few Senate rules changes–making earmarks more transparent and ending anonymous holds–that Gillibrand said she’ll be pushing for.
Several senior senators have argued against meddling with the filibuster. In his exit speech on the Senate floor, outgoing Senator Christopher Dodd cautioned against doing anything that might disrupt the unique traditions of the Senate.
But Gillibrand said a number of senior senators support the changes.
“I do understand why Senator Dodd and other senior senators have concerns, because they’ve been in the minority,” Gillibrand said. “They want to make sure the minority still has the ability to participate and be part of the process. So they just have concerns that if we’re in the minority in the future, we might not have the leverage that the minority has today.
“But for each one of these rules, we’ve all thought long and hard about it, and we’ve all said that we would be happy under these rules, whether we’re in the majority or the minority. And I think that’s one of the important litmus tests for each of these reforms–that it’s not overly burdening the minority, that these are just reforms that are trying to move legislation forward and let legitimate debate take place.”